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Feed the Fires, Tend the Stock, 1973/1981/1994/2021

A kaleidoscopic evocation of place by artist Laura Grace Ford, newly commissioned by Nav Haq.

City Square. Park Row. Boar Lane.

The air’s different, there’s heat in it, a rogue Spanish smell. Pine needles and red earth, black tobacco and cardamom.

Trinity shopping centre, a contaminated greenhouse. The escalators are encased in plywood, it’s meant to be industrial I suppose, like a club or an art installation, with fluorescent tube lights and zig zag lettering. I’m thinking about the places we went: Phono, Warehouse, Orbit, others I’ve forgotten the names of. They were dark dens, caverns of dry ice, mirrors and black walls.

Trinity is a circus of chain shops and restaurants, H&M, Primark, shit like that. It’s a webbed canopy, an atrium wrapping you in it. A new skittishness pulses in the desperate sloganeering, the swarms of Sale signs. The mall is suspended between the fanfare of its opening and the piecemeal closure of its retail units, there’s a shrill defensiveness in the architecture, guards stationed at every level.

A song blares nonchalantly across the desolate cavern, vocals adding syrupy textures to a radically new terrain. In the moment of exception possibilities begin to proliferate, the shopping mall is re-imagined as a social centre, a rave, a cascade of sumptuous bedrooms.

I emerge on Briggate. I remember watching dozens, no, scores, come through here and take the Apple Store. I remember jubilance in the breaching of it, a dark, carnivalesque joy.

My hair’s a mess, the heat’s flattening it.

I walk through Country Arcade with its iron balustrades and Burmantofts faience. The floors have tiled patterns on them, exploding circles like mandalas. I glance at the window displays, capsules of things I can’t afford and feel the judgement spritzing from Reiss and Harvey Nichols. They’re just about holding on, these elevated emporia, but I catch the disquiet shimmering in the mineral foundation and neutral eyes of the assistants.

I’d like to go into those air-conditioned rooms, breathe diffuser scents of neroli and grapefruit but I’m in the wrong garb, signalling the wrong code. I feel exposed somehow, maybe I’ve been drinking too much. I don’t like the sheen on my skin, the melting make-up. I pull my cap over my eyes like a visor.

Somewhere between Kirkgate and Vicar Lane a knot of streets. The light is more Granada than West Yorkshire. There’s a cafО, chairs outside. The heat is reordering the architecture, turning it inside out. Porters stagger from kitchens, sprawl in mauve shadows to smoke. I think of the last time we were in this city together, we stopped somewhere, was it here? You’d cut your hair and I imagined the luxuriant heaps spilling on the barber’s floor. You looked older then, like you’d shed another life.

The edge of the shopping district is the medieval city boundary. The bricks are searing to touch. Men crouch beneath walls at the cholera grounds. Burley Bar Stone, the corner of the Headrow and Albion Street. Leylands to the east where the Chinese Supermarkets were.

Kirkgate market. I remember one Christmas knockoff Baileys and white chrysanthemums. I was living in Woodhouse then. We came here sometimes, before the coach station or going to Brighouse to see my dad. It was always cold, an excuse to call in at the Brougham Arms with its red bricks, its glowing lantern outside. I liked how they stared when we walked in, the addled, grim-faced punters, the way you eyed them back, daring them to say something. I remember one afternoon it snowed, the coach couldn’t leave, and we holed up in a corner with glinting Jameson glasses. We were happy then, marooned in a cabin, conversation unspooling in the glazed tiles and dim yellow light. You were starting a job down south, there was money sloshing around, easy pickings you said.

I walk through the market. The Victorian desire for order is crystallised in the domed glazed roof. Each stall is encased in its own stand, clearly demarcated. A haberdashers, a delicatessen, a florist. It’s cleaner than I remember, and lighter.

Balls of wool arranged in pyramids, tubs of pastel-coloured ice cream, spikes of coral gladioli.

Then the 70s market hall: shimmering spills of fabric, kitchen appliances, fake handbags.

A cafО with orange pendant lights, a smell of popcorn and frankincense. There are booths where you can watch the market through reinforced Perspex. The man behind the counter speaks Harehills with mouldings of Amharic. He appraises me with unexpected fondness, and I wonder if I know him, if we met sometime back then. Maybe if you’d have been here he’d have said something; the two of us together might have jolted a missing piece. I think about halfway houses, hidden meeting rooms, how hard it was then to keep track of everyone.

A couple of blokes are slumped over a Formica table with front room ease. They’re in every day I think, eking out sweet coffees, watching the comings and goings through bleary zonked out eyes.

I settle into an alcove, a temporary sanctuary.

My phone’s buzzing, a cheap burner I got this week. I thumb through texts, directions mostly, encrypted plans for later.

Irish sisters come in with white faces and sombre black clothes. I must be in their corner I realise, between dusty rubber plants and defunct heating appliances; they cast glances, make a show of discomfort as they settle into a diametric booth.

The man brings coffee in a small cup, black like a dilated pupil. There’s something tacit in the exchange, an unspoken connection to another place.

I don’t stay long, twenty minutes that’s all, but something changes, through striated leaves and ketchup bottles I’m tapping into other futures.


The market is a maze, a computer game, I go across and down, lose my bearings, feel daft when I see the same faces.

Stalls with second-hand books, birthday cards five for a quid.

Suit jackets, camphor-scented, like they’ve just come out of storage.

Then the sprawl outside and it starts to unravel, a glitch in the CGI rendering of the brand-new retail development, which is there, braced for the receivers, the chains at the door.

A stall with stolen bikes and heaps of tyres, another with mobiles and chargers. Lads trading, handing stuff over.

A woman with bleached hair and black eyeliner, something familiar about her. She has a dog, it could be an Irish wolfhound, big and rangy with a coat the colour of wire wool. It stands stock still beside me. The woman drags him away, he must have been your dog, she shouts, in another life.

House clearance, old crockery, bric-a-brac, junk. A stink of weed then, green envelope sealing us. Denby coffee cups from the 70s, we had that set, the decades are scored in it, biography in the glazes. I want to repossess the time, undo the mistakes rising in it. I lift one, examine the roundel pattern, the mid-browns and turquoise.

Then I’m jostled a bit and I set it back in the roil of chipped mugs and faulty kettles. I’m trying to stop buying stuff, trying to lose the shoals of memory that swim through it all. I’d like to live in a hotel, I think sometimes, with clean white walls and empty cupboards.

Platform sandals in a heap of trainers and scuffed boots. They’re like Yves Saint Laurent ones, spindly and scorching. Sometimes I wear stuff like that, they make me think of you, the eroticism of those times.

I walk through a wall and it’s Victoria Gate and the bus station. Last time I was here it was freezing, there was rum in my coffee, there were old people in thin anoraks and black ice, now it’s sweltering.

I cross Eastgate where I went on that dole course. I realise the building’s been demolished, subsumed into the new department store. I met a crew from Bradford in there, Inder and some of the ADF lot, it was a chance to network, like activists they meant, not LinkedIn. You were away then, but meeting them brought you closer.

This is the boundary, that’s why things dissolve, why the council try to shore it up. I recognise the government buildings as fortifications, Quarry House as bastille.

John Lewis homewares, glacial arrangements of candles and ornaments, a white security guard circling. There’s never anyone here, it’s always chilled to inertia. I’m in a controlled zone, there’s a surplus of gear but it’s all accounted for, all ordered.

Everything’s reduced, you could furnish a house if you had one, kit yourself out with autumn clothes. But it’s all wrong, the subdued palette of woolen coats and heavy knitted jumpers are out of kilter. I cast a glance at myself in the mirror, the white denim jacket four sizes too big, the bare legs and white stilettos. The new arcade can’t tap into the currents, the ecologies at the edge of the city, the unlicensed and unbound.

The dole office was called Circle House, it had Greek key patterns climbing the walls. The day they refused to let me sign marked the end of a cycle, after that I left for London, watched the pylons and service stations and laybys through a buzz of vodka and lemonade. You’d left Yorkshire years before, the time had passed and I’d been preoccupied, too busy to dwell on you, I suppose things rushed on, a racketing forward momentum, now I see how it moves in and out like the tide.

Boarded up warehouses Phase 2, Victoria Gate.

A traffic island with monkey puzzle trees.

Quarry Hill. The flats were demolished in 1976. I remember the orange street lights, the black arches and windows. It rose like a barrier, on and on like Hadrian’s Wall. I must have been three as the motorway slid beneath the city, as I absorbed the image of the estate; my mum was driving, we were coming from Brighouse when it made its indelible mark.

A thicket of buddleia, collapsed plywood boards. A sign saying Assessment Centre. A tang of cortisol and adrenaline from ramps and car doors. Inside are LED lights, a stark reception, staff who won’t even look at you.

Footbridge over the A64, site of crossing and conveyance, a new temporality coalescing here. Where is the mediator, the guardian at the gate? Perhaps he’s the cab driver dropping them off, or the bloke in the wheelchair saying take good care.

The bridge spans the deep ravine of the motorway. I look for the mosaic patterns, the orange lights. This is the first Leeds, locked and everlasting like ink under the skin.

The other side is Burmantofts, the brickfields and cholera grounds, names rubbed smooth on the ground.

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